Idaho’s Congressman addresses Interior Secretary over wildfires budget process
Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, vice-chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, discussed the need to change the budget process for wildfires during Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell’s testimony to the subcommittee on Wednesday. Simpson is the lead sponsor of H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would end the destructive cycle of fire borrowing and would treat catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.
“Like many of my Western colleagues, I have seen the impacts of catastrophic wildfires first hand as they rage across Idaho each summer, threatening the lives and property of my constituents. In order to manage our federal lands, we need to stop using funding intended for land management to fight fires. This is a devastating cycle and it is destroying our forests,” said Simpson. “Until we address this issue, anything we do to increase needed management activities in the forests, like hazardous fuels removal, timber harvest, conservation, or trail maintenance, will continue to be decimated during wildfire season. Fixing the wildfire budget is the critical first step in making our forests healthier and, ultimately, reducing the cost of wildfires in the future.”
Secretary Jewell included similar language in her fiscal year 2016 budget request and commended Congressman Simpson for his work on H.R. 167, which has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
Congressmen Simpson and Congressman Schrader (D-OR) introduced legislation earlier this year to make common sense changes to the federal wildfire budget. Last Congress, H.R. 167 was cosponsored by 140 Members of Congress and was supported by a broad coalition of over 300 organizations.
“We’re either going to pay for fires by taking the money from other budgets and try to repay them later, which doesn’t work, or we are going to find a better way to manage this account,” said Simpson. “I’m pleased to see Secretary Jewell address this vital change in wildfire funding in her budget proposal and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to advance this much needed change.”
Congressman Simpson also raised concerns regarding a potential listing of the sage grouse which has a court ordered listing deadline in September of this year.
“I have long said that the Department needs to fully engage the states in order to ensure we are doing everything possible to prevent a listing,” said Simpson after the hearing. “I am concerned that if the Department doesn’t honor the language which prevents the agency from writing a rule, stakeholders may not have adequate time to finish their management plans that are essential to preventing the listing. I will continue to advocate for the states involvement in this process.”
Congressman Simpson closed the hearing by encouraging the Secretary to look at a long term solution for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program that would provide certainty to Idaho counties.